Showing posts with label Muslim. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Muslim. Show all posts

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Real India


“This is indeed India; the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a thousand nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterday’s bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations—the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.”
Mark Twain

All my life I have believed in an India that increasingly exists only in my mind’s eye. Perhaps, this India of which I am so proud to be a citizen is merely an idea that has not yet been fully realized. Increasingly, it feels like this great vision of India rarely matches the reality that I see.

My India is rich with diversity, the birthplace of three of the world’s major religions (friend, guide and philosopher to the other three) and home to every religion practiced by man. In this India, it is our diversity, and not our divisions, that make us stronger, richer and more powerful. In my India, I am always proud to be Indian first; then Bengali, Tamilian, Gujarati, Malayali, Punjabi or Jain. 

In this India, I am also proud that India is still home to the second largest Muslim population in the world; in spite of the creation of two Muslim states on her borders. This is what makes the fabric of my India so rich and her cultural mosaic the envy of the civilized world. No other country in the world can claim to have this breadth of heritage and depth of diversity running through her veins.  

As long as each of us clings to being a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian or a Jain then we will remain only a very small and totally inconsequential part of this India.

In this India, Hinduism is not a religion, but a philosophy for a way of life. It is an accumulation of ideas, beliefs, traditions, philosophies and cultural practices that were collected and shaped over centuries. Unlike other religions, Hinduism cannot be neatly slotted into a specific belief system. 

It is a Dharma, or a set of philosophies that are meant to govern our personal beliefs and worldly actions. Interestingly, it is the only religion in the world that cannot be traced back to one single individual or book. And the only religion that does not require a person to “convert” or have a religious affiliation to it in order to receive its teachings. 

The word “Hindu” cannot be found in any of its scriptures. In fact, it was first used by invading Arabs to describe al-Hind, or the land of the people who live across the river Indus; and it was only toward the end of the 18th century that the European merchants and colonists referred collectively to the followers of Indian religions as Hindus (source: Wikipedia). 

Hinduism is considered the world’s oldest religion, pre-dating Judaism, Christianity and Islam by a few thousand years. If you look at its practices, unlike other religions, it does not tell you who to worship, what to eat, which day or how many times to pray, but instead offers things like Yoga, Ayurveda and Vastu. At its core it is about self-awareness and the idea of “live and let live;” with an underlying belief system based on truth, honesty, non-violence, cleanliness, austerity and perseverance. Perhaps, this is the reason it is often referred to as the “enlightened religion.” This is the true nature of the religion we today call Hinduism.

The Hinduism that is preached, practiced and used as a tool to create communal strife and manipulate the voting public today is barely recognizable, and not part of my India. It has been bastardized by Hindu fundamentalists and hijacked by self-appointed chieftains and politicians as a way to divide the country and buy votes. But it is too easy to blame just the power hungry; for individuals too it has deteriorated into regular offerings of millions of rupees in gold, silver and precious gems to their Gods – purely as a way to atone and wash away all the worldly sins they commit outside their temple walls. 

These offerings lie collecting dust in temple vaults while 830 million Indian’s live on less than Rs. 20 per day ($0.44c or UK 0.27 pence). A person going to the temple with bags full of gold or cash can pass a starving child on the way to their deity, and look the other way. However, he will have no qualms about handing over all his possessions to fat, corrupt temple officials as an offering to an inanimate block of stone. This is what we have reduced Hinduism to, a worthless transaction that does nothing to help us live better lives, become better human beings, help our fellow countrymen or even our own country.

In my India we celebrate and hold dear our heritage, not simply because it is thousands of years old, but because it is responsible for our wealth of diversity, today. Which other non-Muslim country in the world can claim to have so many different successful Muslim figures across every aspect of society, even though they are a minority in a country whose population is more than four-fifths Hindu? 

We have had three Muslim Presidents; the Khans still rule Bollywood and Azim Premji is one of the richest men in the world. We can also proudly lay claim to Javed Akhtar and A.R. Rehman and feel great pride in the fact that one of our most patriotic and well-known songs “Saare Jahan Se Achchha,” was a great collaboration. It was penned by Muhammed Iqbal, a Muslim, and the music was composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar, a Hindu. In fact, in this India we don’t just blindly recite the lyrics, we hold them dear.

“maz’hab nahīn sikhātā āpas men bayr rakhnā
hindi hai ham, vatan hai hindostān hamārā”

“Religion does not teach us to bear ill-will among us
We are Indians, India is our homeland”

We take their meaning to heart and reflect this in the way we live our lives. And we hang our heads in shame at the fact that we all stood idly by and watched one of our greatest national treasures, the late artist M. F. Hussain, die in a foreign land where he felt he needed to seek refuge (and accept citizenship) because thugs in saffron made sure he would never feel safe in his own home again. 

This even after the Supreme Court threw out all the completely frivolous lawsuits against his nude paintings of Indian Goddesses; refusing to initiate criminal proceedings against him for hurting Hindu sentiments. The court also called out the clear anti-Muslim motives behind these cases, by stating the fact that Hindu temples are filled with much more graphic depictions of nude Goddesses in pictures, paintings and sculptures, and it seems that this never hurt Hindu sentiments in a few thousand years.

This India is not about all hugging and getting along. I doubt man will ever be able to do that, but it is about accepting that we are not all the same; that we will never look, dress, think and pray alike, but that each of us has something to contribute and much more to learn. It is about recognizing that this learning is what makes us all stronger, richer, greater and more successful as a nation. 

It is only once we are all able to embrace this notion that we can stop our leaders from dividing us based on the inconsequential differences that exist between us. Until then, I will treasure this India in my mind’s eye.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Enemy in Our Midst

“Fighting terrorism is like being a goalkeeper. You can make a hundred brilliant saves but the only shot that people remember is the one that gets past you.”
Paul Wilkinson

While the Republicans and Democrats continue to expend time and energy fighting and arguing about what to call terrorists. And Conservatives blame misguided left wing political correctness for using soft terminology and for lack of profiling, the world and the profile of the Extremist is being totally re-defined with every new homegrown terrorist being caught in America and abroad. It is becoming increasingly and frighteningly clear that our old rules, profiles and profiling definitions no longer apply. The terrorists are now recruiting and succeeding in creating a totally new breed of monster: people who are virtually impossible to sniff out or detect, most times until they actually commit an act of terror.

In the last year alone, all the men (and a few women) who have been arrested in the act of committing an act of terror, planning one or are already trained and hardened members of Al-Qaeda - not one of them fits the old profile of disenfranchised, poor, uneducated, Muslim and non-American.
Omar Hammami, was born to a white Southern Baptist woman from Alabama and a Syrian immigrant father. He had the most normal middle class childhood and upbringing in Daphne, Alabama until he showed up in a Somalia Al-Qaeda terrorist propaganda video one day with his nom de guerre, Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, “the American” (The Jihadist Next Door - New York Times). Bryant Neal Vinas was an altar boy who grew up in a middle class suburb on Long Island, New York, with a passion for baseball and the Mets. His father is from Peru and his mother Argentinean. Vinas was arrested last year in Afghanistan and confessed to being trained and assisting Al-Qaeda in a plan to bomb the Long Island Rail Road. Friends describe Vinas as a sweet, charming, young boy with a kind heart, who was perhaps a little gullible. David Coleman Headley has a wealthy former Pakistani diplomat for a father and a white American Pittsburgh socialite mother. By all accounts he had a very privileged childhood. He lived with his father in Pakistan until the age of 17, when he arrived in the United States to live with his mother. In 1998 he was convicted of smuggling heroin into the US. As part of a deal for a lighter sentence, he agreed to work undercover for the Drug Enforcement Agency, which gave him unfettered access to Pakistan, India and the United States. It is now clear he was training with Lashkar, raising the possibility that he had made contact with militants while still working for the DEA. He has admitted to helping plot the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Bombay, in 2008. Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, better known as the underwear bomber, is the son of a former minister and chairman of First Bank of Nigeria. He lived in a four million dollar apartment in Central London, and was an Engineering student at a prestigious London University. His teacher and friends remember him as model pupil and “very personable boy". Faisal Shahzad, the terrorist who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square is the son of a former Air Force vice marshal and Deputy Director of Civil Aviation in Pakistan. Shazad graduated from the University of Bridgeport, came back to earn a Master’s in the same school, and was working with a marketing and consulting firm as a junior financial analyst. He became a US citizen in 2009 and married a Colorado-born girl with Pakistani parents. They have two children. He is the epitome of the “average student, employee, and neighbour” that litters the suburban American landscape today.

The list goes on, but what is most alarming to me about all of these men is that they have only one thing in common. Not one of them fits into any of our pre-defined categories or profiles that have been established and used by law enforcement for more than two decades for the hard core
Jihadist. Yet to consider them anything less would be a foolish mistake. After 9/11 we were all painted a picture of the poverty-stricken, opportunity-less, uneducated Muslim male as the person we should fear most to be a likely terrorist. We were told that these men could be found in poorer cities and villages in Muslim countries. And we were led to believe that the focus was on preventing these men from penetrating our borders, not that they already reside within them. Or the fact they are from upper or upper middle class backgrounds, clean cut, born and bred American and some even non-Muslim. So what the hell happened and how did our governments get it so totally wrong? “There's clearly been an acceleration in radicalization in the United States," said Mitch Silber, the director of intelligence analysis at the New York Police Department. He says that Bryant Neal Vinas and many of these men are “poster children for the process, the unremarkable nature of the people who might go through this process and the potential to link up with al Qaeda and the danger that it presents" (‘The radicalization of an all-American kid’ - CNN). Clearly, the internet has made it much easier for people to access and find Al-Qaeda or radicals around the world and more frighteningly the reverse is also true. There was a long held belief that integration and assimilation of the population was not an issue in the United States as it has been in Europe, but that myth, too, has been shattered by among others the Fort Hood shooter and the Times Square bomber. What is clear is that we are witnessing a totally new phenomenon and one that has caught International law enforcement by surprise. But what is far more frightening to me is that it is seemingly impossible to find a common thread between all of these men or a common motivation to profile them in any meaningful way. Without an understanding of their motivations or the turning or tipping point as it may be, we are totally defenseless to identify these men or track them down until after they have shown the demon within them, which most often is too late.

I leave you to ponder the words of author Michael Marshall from his book, Blood of Angels:
“Terrorism isn't James Bond or Tom Clancy. Even Al-Qaeda is looking old school these days---now it's just some guy with a bomb. He walks the same roads as us. He thinks the same thoughts. But he's got a bomb.”